Junior journalism major Lexy Leidlein is back home in her childhood bedroom in Waterbury, Connecticut. In mid-May she visited State College to move out of her dorm. While she was in town, Leidlein noticed several downtown houses hosting “porch parties.” It made her think students will not follow social distancing protocols.
“I think it's going to be really hard for students especially to maintain that distance from each other and not go back to our old ways like everything's normal,” Leidlein said. “Because as soon as we do that and then something happens, you can't really stop it because there is so many of us.”
Leidlein questions whether a university of over 40,000 undergraduate students can do what it takes to stay safe. But she has found online learning difficult and says she would really like to be back on campus for classes in the fall.
“I mean, if it doesn't happen it doesn't happen. But I think Penn State is just trying to figure out what's best for the students,” Leidlein said. “I hope they really take into account how much us being around each other really helps us when we learn.”
Across the country in Chicago, junior computer engineering student Martin Borysiewicz says finances might keep him from going back to Penn State.
Both of Borysiewicz’s parents own small businesses. His father runs a contracting company while his mother oversees a business that does sound production for concerts. With little money coming in from either business, Borysiewicz has seen firsthand the economic impacts of COVID-19.
“The virus is kind of a killer of small businesses, as many people have probably heard in the news,” Borysiewicz said. “So recently, it's causing a big financial strain on not just me, but plenty of other students, and it's really raising the question of whether it's worth it to return to campus in the fall.”
Even if Penn State returns to in-person classes, Borysiewicz is not sure whether he will go back. Knowing that he would have to foot the bill with his parents’ companies struggling, Borysiewicz has explored transferring to a cheaper in-state school or taking the semester off.
“In the end, I think my parents probably wouldn't be able to offer much support if I decided to go back to school in the fall,” Borysiewicz said.
Back in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, sophomore psychology major Lauren Pavlechko questions Penn State’s ability to keep classrooms sanitary. And after classes in large lecture halls last year, Pavlechko thinks social distancing will be hard.
“It was seat to seat; there wasn't a lot of space,” Pavlechko said. “It wasn't very cleanly either, so I know that with that, the virus would really just kind of flourish in those environments.”
But Pavlechko has her family’s blessing to choose whether to return to Penn State.
“At the end of the day I think it's my choice,” Pavlechko said. “It's my education, and it's my experience. I'm old enough now where I get to make those decisions for myself. But I also am going to be considering my family and the people that I'm impacting as well. I think for me, I’m more scared of passing it on to someone than I am getting it.”
Still, with an escape from sheltering in place at home potentially on the horizon, students like Pavlechko may jump at the chance to rejoin the Penn State community. After over two months of seeing only family members, Pavlechko says she would be thrilled to return to campus if Penn State can make it safe for students.
“Oh, 100%,” Pavlechko said. “I'm definitely excited to go back if there is an opportunity to go back.”
Penn State officials have said they will announce how fall 2020 classes will be held by June 15.